This is a footer on a deck. It is a great example of what a building inspector will approve or tell you to make changes to before you can continue on a job.

Before we begin the process of buying materials for that next do-it-yourself project it is a good idea to check into whether a building permit is required. I met with a potential client once who had a deck built around his above ground pool and didn’t get a permit. You might think that the county doesn’t keep up with who has what on their property, but they do. A county employee called the man soon after, as the man related the story to me, and said “Mr. Smith, this is so and so from the county we see that you recently built a deck on your property and didn’t apply for a permit.” Oops.

So how does one know if a permit is required?

Keep in mind that regulations can differ from state to state, but if you are unsure as to whether or not you need a permit, check with your county’s or city’s website first. If that doesn’t give you an answer, the next easiest thing to do is to simply call the Building Inspection Department and explain what you are planning to do. They will tell you if a permit is needed. As a general rule, if you are adding to or attaching living space to your home you will need a permit. If you are building a structure (barn, garage, or shed) on your property you will need a permit.

An example: what about a deck?

Perhaps you have been thinking about adding that deck space to one side of your home. You can see one of our recent deck projects here! Decks are great projects for the DIY-er. They are doable for most folks with basic carpentry skills and tools. On a skill level scale of 1-10 I would place it at a 5. However, in many locations, you will need to get a building permit to build that deck. Don’t let that dissuade you. It is really not that hard as a homeowner to get that permit. Most county Building departments that I have worked with, are very user friendly and staffed with people that are willing to help you get that project done right.

How do I start?

First, go to the Building Inspection Department and tell them what you want to build. They will give you a pamphlet which will have drawings of different deck styles that are acceptable with lots of useful information on footers, lumber size, straps, concrete, fasteners etc. They are also going to want a couple of drawings of your proposed plans. You don’t have to be an architect to do this. You can draw these up yourself. Draw up one and make copies. You will need to detail lumber size, lumber spacing, post size, footing depth and size and fasteners and strapping. Most of this information you can get from the pamphlet that they gave you. With those basics, go back in and ask what else, if anything, you will need. They may want to have “setbacks” which is just a plat of your property showing exactly where the proposed work will take place and how far this work will setback from property lines. They will walk you through it. Then they will charge you a standard fee for the permit based on the type of permit. It then goes before a reviewer and a few days later if it looks good (and don’t worry about mistakes, they will make any needed corrections on the site plans) you will be issued your permit. You are ready to start that deck!

What about inspections? With a deck you basically have only 2 inspections, Footing and Final.

1.) Footing: Lay out your deck and mark on the ground where the posts will go. Before you start digging yours holes, it is a good idea to square up your layout with stakes and string making sure that your layout is square (use a framing square and also measure corner to corner and use your basic geometry formula A squared plus B squared equals C squared). Once you are sure you have the holes laid out in the correct locations, start digging. Generally, post footers need to be at least 18”x18” and 18’ Deep. That can vary depending on the frost depth in your locality so confirm before you call for inspection. When you have your holes(footers) dug call for inspection.

2.) Final. After you have your footings inspected, build your deck. There are several things you will need to pay careful attention to as you build your deck. Fasteners must be approved types. Galvanized fasteners or screws designed for decks are the only types allowed for deck boards. Ledger boards must be attached to the house with either ½” thru bolts or approved lag screws or equivalent. It is the same for the outer band board attached to the posts. Floor joist must have joists hangers attached at each end. Be diligent to fill every hole in those hangers. Also be diligent to get your rail at the right height and your balusters equally spaced at the approved distance (max. is 4”). Stairs for the deck must have guidelines followed for the step and riser distances to make your steps safe. When you get that done, call for your final inspection.

Finally, don’t sweat inspections. As a homeowner, building inspectors understand that you may not know everything. They will help you if you ask for help. If you aren’t approved on the first inspection, call the inspector and be polite and courteous. Ask him exactly what needs to be done to done to pass and listen carefully. Follow his instructions and you will be fine on the next inspection! Have a question or an experience to share? Put it in the comments below!